Mishlei Twenty-Four: Learning

“And I, myself, saw; I applied my heart; I saw and learned a lesson (Proverbs 24:32).” This quote seems so applicable to this week, when I’ve been traveling around Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, hearing the stories of the incredible and complex people who make up this diverse city. I feel like in order for this process to be successful in making its intended impact, I need to follow the precepts listed in this verse. First, I’m coming as myself – bringing with me all of the history and baggage that I have, both positive and negative, as it pertains to Jerusalem, Israel, and all of the various issues in play here. I don’t believe in starting with a clean slate, but instead am committed to acknowledging the unique background with which each of us approaches a situation and using it as a foundation for the experience. Second, I’m seeing – watching the surroundings, the interactions, and the people themselves, in each scenario. Third, I’m applying my heart – I’m trying to reconcile each of the experiences that I’m having with my vision, goals, and inner understandings of Israel. I’m connecting with my heart and soul, and figuring out how each perspective relates to me and my Zionism. And finally, I’m learning the lessons, and can’t wait to bring them back home, and to my future learners.

Tehillim One Hundred and Twenty-One: IDF

“Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalms 121:4).” I’ve seen these words before, and knew that they originated in Tanakh, but this is the first time I’m seeing them in their original context. While I realize that the verse refers to God when talking about the Guardian of Israel, I’ve seen it used to describe the brave men and women of the IDF. The Israel Defense Force is comprised of impressive, heroic individuals, who put their lives on the line in order to defend and protect the Jewish people. It’s because of them and their constant vigilance that I feel more comfortable in Israel than anywhere else in the world, despite what people hear about on the news. I think all of us wish it wasn’t necessary – it would be ideal if eighteen year old kids didn’t have to give up years of their lives to ensure the ongoing safety and security of Israel and all its inhabitants. But since it is, I hope and pray every day for their protection and success.

Tehillim One Hundred and Ten: Enemy Territory

“The staff of your might the Lord will send from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies (Psalms 110:2).” It took me a few minutes to find a verse from today’s psalm to expound upon. It’s a short psalm, and nothing jumped out to me as inspiring. But when I read through it again, this verse made me think about Israel, a tiny country in the midst of a rough neighborhood of enemies and hostile regimes. This week, the news coming out of Israel and the Middle East has been particularly sad. Palestinians on the Temple Mount snuck in guns and shot and killed two Israeli border guards. Three Palestinians were then killed in the riots that broke out when the Israeli government put metal detectors outside of the al-Aqsa mosque complex. Three additional Israelis were killed around their family Shabbat dinner table by a Palestinian terrorist who broke in and stabbed them. And an attack on the Israeli embassy in Amman left the Arab attacker dead and an Israeli security guard wounded. This laundry list of blood and violence is spiraling out of control once again. Israel is trying to survive and to thrive amongst a hostile group of enemies, and I hope that soon things will calm down again and it’ll be able to succeed.

Tehillim Fifty: Yom HaZikaron

Another day, another perfectly connected and appropriate verse from Tanakh. It’s amazing how often it happens that way – coincidence? Or something else?

Today is what I would refer to as the most sacred day on the Zionist calendar. It’s the day when Yom HaZikaron, the memorial day for Israeli soldiers and victims of terror is observed, and then tonight, the country dries its collective tears in order to celebrate the result of the sacrifice of these thousands of lives. It’s a day that any therapist could spend years analyzing – the raw emotions felt by an entire country, because each boy lost is ours, part of the family of the nation. We cry as though we knew them, because we all know next time we might. We flock to the cemeteries, rubbing the cold, smooth stones, warmed by the light of the Israeli sun, as if we were rubbing their backs, smoothing their hair, and holding them in our arms once again. When the sirens roar, they tear through the country like the primal wails that accompany every death call.

And then, all of a sudden, it stops. With no time to process, we shake off the tears and the dust of pain, and keep shaking in all night dance parties and fireworks displays, celebrating the modern miracle of the State of Israel.

So, our verse. “Gather to Me My devoted ones, who made a covenant with Me over a sacrifice (Psalms 50:5).” As soon as I read this one I made the inherent connection to the fallen soldiers, and the holy sacrifice they made for the Jewish State and people. I personally believe that they’re with God today, watching all of us. May their memories all be for a blessing.

Amos Nine: Roots

This is the final chapter of the book of Amos. Reading this book has been the first time that I’ve delved into this prophet at all, and I’m finding myself interested in adding books on all of the minor prophets to my never-ending, every-growing reading list. I know so much research has been done on all of them, and I’m just scratching the surface. For this chapter, I want to focus on the last verse of Amos. “And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from upon their land, that I have given them, said the Lord your God (Amos 9:15).” What I love about this particular verse is that it makes me think about roots, and connections that run beneath the surface. So many of the anti-Israel conversations that are happening today stem from a questioning of the intrinsic link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. But reading these texts drives home for me just how deep the ties go, and how intentional it is that this is the piece of land that we as a people have staked our futures on. We are bound together, and reading our history through Tanakh is both eye-opening and affirming.

509 chapters down, 402 to go!

Yechezkel Thirty-Five + Thirty-Six: Mountains

In sadly historic news, yesterday marks the first day since I began Project 929 nearly 2 years ago that I completely forgot to do my daily chapter. There have been 1 or 2 other days when I haven’t managed to post, but this is truly the first time that I completely forgot about this part of my daily routine. On the one hand, as I’ve said a few times, this is the longest I’ve stuck with any habit or challenge ever, so it’s still pretty impressive in my opinion. On the other hand, I am disappointed in myself for forgetting, and will be doing 2 chapters today to make up for it.

Chapter 35 focuses on Mount Seir and the people who inhabit it. “Because you have everlasting hatred, and you hurled the children of Israel by the sword, on the day of their misfortune at the time of the end of their iniquity (Ezekiel 35:5).” What drew me into this verse is the idea of everlasting hatred. No hate should be eternal. Even the most longtime of enemies should be able to, eventually, come to a consensus and find a way to make and foster peace between them. There are people who deserve not to be forgiven, but when hatred becomes institutionalized and nationalized, and is inherited as part of a culture, it can only beget additional layers of sadness and destruction.

In Chapter 36, the mountains of Israel are the recipient of the prophecy. “And I shall cause man to walk upon you, My people Israel, and they will inherit you, and you will be to them for an inheritance, and you will no longer continue to be bereaved of them (Ezekiel 36:12).” As I’ve written about before, I identify strongly with Zionism. I understand the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, and have experienced firsthand the longing for it. This verse flips that emotion around through, and indicates that the physical land itself also feels the lack of the people when they aren’t there. It’s truly a partnership, with human being and earth being intertwined with each other, and each one somehow unfulfilled without the other.

Yechezkel Fifteen: Israel

“I shall make the land desolate because they have trespassed grievously, says the Lord God (Ezekiel 15:8).” Reading this verse made me think about Israel today, and the historic vision of Israel that many of us have. I grew up with stories about Zionist pioneers coming to a malaria filled swampland and draining it, fulfilling the impossible by making the desert bloom. I’ve heard that phrase so many times, and it’s interesting to see that here in the original texts is where it says that the land would become the desolate place that the early Zionists developed. It seems to me that in many ways, up until the modern day people waited for God to do things like decide when the land was ready to be fruitful once again, instead of what we do today and taking things into our own hands. The Israeli can-do spirit and tenacity is a result of this, and shows that in some cases, we’ve gone beyond prophecies.

Yirmiyahu Fifty-One: Immigration Crisis

The description of the Babylonian destruction continues. “And I will send against Babylon foreigners and they shall scatter her and empty her land, for they were against her all around on that day of evil (Jeremiah 51:2).” The Israelites are encouraged to flee from Babylon and save their own lives. The tables have turned. The Israelites were brought to Babylon because of God’s anger, and now they’re being given the opportunity to leave because God’s anger has transferred. But the people have been in Babylon for a long time, so it may no longer be instinctive for them to go anywhere else. “Fugitives from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the Lord from the distant past, and let Jerusalem enter your mind (Jeremiah 51:50).” This reminds me of stories that I’ve heard about the immigrant experience. When Jews left Europe, even though they’d been longing for Israel for generations, many wound up going to America because it made the most sense, and was most present in their minds. Therefore, it’s logical that God needed to make sure that Israel was front and center once again in the minds of the Babylonian Diaspora Jews. Otherwise, who knows where they would have ended up?

Yirmiyahu Eleven: Jerusalem

Fortuitously, this particular chapter mentions Jerusalem multiple times. We hear about the ancient city almost immediately. “Hearten to the words of this covenant, and you shall speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 11:2).” I’m paying particular attention to the mentions of Jerusalem and Israel, because I’m finally back in Israel for the first time in 8 months. It’s the longest I’ve been gone in years, and being back has made me realize just how much I’ve missed being here. These are the streets where the prophets walked, where the stories that I read every day were played out. There are a million reasons why it makes more sense for me to live in America. But being here gives me a feeling that nowhere else does. 

Yeshayahu Sixty-Two: Calling

“For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, until her righteousness comes out like brilliance, and her salvation burns like a torch (Isaiah 62:1).” This verse is honestly one of my favorite ones so far. It’s inspiring, and I feel deeply connected to the message that I’m reading into it. So, to delve into it: I feel a strong pull, an obligation and a calling to what I see as the holy work of standing up for Israel and the Jewish people. I’ve chosen to make my career as a Jewish educator, to engage with others in meaningful ways that connect them to Israel and their Jewish identities. Part of that regularly involves advocating for Israel, online, in person, and however else necessary. Far too often, there are people who are so willing to believe the best in everyone else, but the worst in the Jewish State. They’re comfortable spreading lies and hate speech, or just plain ignorance. As a Zionist, a lover of Israel, and a committed Jew, I feel that it’s my obligation to stand up for Israel. I believe that everyone in the world has a mission, something that they’re compelled to do for a higher purpose, and this is mine.